Friday, June 05, 2020

Weekend Update: Inside Looking Out

My first protest demonstration was the March on Washington in 1963, when I was 17.  I participated in many more in that decade--in Washington and elsewhere, some scented with tear gas-- and the decades since, until this one.  This time I'm a senior sequestrian, on the inside looking out.

The political dynamic has changed.  There really was a Silent Majority in the 60s through the 80s.  Demonstrations, particularly against the Vietnam War, looked big because my generation was big.  But those of us who protested were a small minority of that generation, and an even smaller minority of the American public.  And any kind of demonstrations really frightened the white majority, let alone the urban riots of the 60s.

Today, as some have remarked, the demographics of demonstrators against racism and police murders in particular are much more diverse, reflecting a much more diverse America in just about every way.  Maybe that's why recent polls show widespread support for these protests, even majority support.  Those numbers track with several other sets, suggesting that the AlwaysTrumpers are alone with their one-third of the electorate talking to pollsters.

Readers of this blog since 2017 may recall its analysis and warnings concerning the figure called Homegrown Hitler or the Apprentice Dictator.  Since then, the process of installing a dictatorship  proceeded in fits and starts.  Lots of fits, and incompetent but eventually effective starts.  The  administration as currently constituted is finally aligned with the apprentice dictator's power grabs, particularly the Attorney General.  (Other cabinet officials appear more interested in their own corruption, mostly financial but also political.)  This administration is quickly completing its destruction of the government it has taken two centuries and more to build.  It is turning the federal judiciary into a mockery of incompetence and ideological dishonesty.

The key to true dictatorship, as observed here a few times previously, is control of the military, or a significant part of it.  This past week Trump tried to take effective control.  He got what he wanted in a single sweep of Lafayette Park, herding peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, tear gas, explosives and huge military helicopters used as blundering instruments of terror.

But he lost control almost immediately.  He may regain it--he seems to have the personal loyalty of ICE and some murky federal vigilante force of prison riot specialists--but as the weekend approached, he was crouching in a heavily fortified White House, under attack most notably by members of his own party and prominent past members of his administration.  His current Secretary of Defense, caterwauling about dominating the battlespace of American cities one minute, was sobering up with direct opposition to Trump's threat of taking complete control by means of the Insurrection Act.

The opposition to Trump, now and as a candidate for reelection, is notably attracting more and more Republicans, from the gray eminence of conservativism George Will through Republican political consultants including the husband of White House toady Kellyann Conway to an actual Senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  At the moment the most potent words have come from the ex-Secretary of Defense Mattis.  It's not just his opposition to Trump's latest moves in trying to misuse the military, but his global attack on Trump's leadership, in very strong language.  A number of retired officers and officials have spoken out, but I'm guessing the statement by the current Secretary of Defense reflects a frenzy of opposition and pressure from the active military leadership, who can't speak out themselves but who don't want this mission.

So this week saw the country come dangerously close to a military dictatorship, and then a reassertion, a renewal and a rebellion against that from the governing class and probably the military.  And just as importantly, a lack of public support for the demagoguery.  So in an odd way prospects are better, at least for now, than since Trump was elected.  Because Trump isn't fooling anyone anymore, outside his AlwaysTrumpers cult.  So now all we have to worry about is the covid crisis and an economic Depression.

Also this week Joe Biden made a widely praised speech in Philadelphia, providing a reminder and a model of what Presidents say and do in a crisis.  President Obama held a virtual town hall meeting, and said the young demonstrators are renewing his hope.

Meanwhile, the demonstrations have revealed more police brutality, some support for reform and against racism within the police, some provocateurs and looters, many peaceful demonstrators and supporters, including the neighbors of looted local businesses in Oakland who spontaneously gathered to clean up the mess.   We'll see how it all looks next weekend, but right now, it does suggest the possibility of a turning point. 

Monday, June 01, 2020

Poetry Monday: Rain Light


Rain Light

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

W.S. Merwin
top photo: BK


Friday, May 29, 2020

Weekend Update: New Virus, Very Old Virus

This past week, the US officially passed 100,000 deaths resulting from the covid virus.  The moment was anticipated by the NY Times with its front page list of every known victim, and by the Washington Post and other news outlets with photographs of victims.  Photos powerfully personalize, but the Times also added identifiers that did so as well, not just occupations and achievements, but "known for his amazing Donald Duck impersonation."

Every week now there is news about Covid 19 itself--new studies, new studies of past studies, new questions.  Many of these are or seem contradictory.  Last week there was hope for a vaccine, and doubt that Covid would cease for many years (those these are not mutually exclusive exactly.)

But some conclusions were being drawn, however provisionally.  Eric Levitz at New York Magazine summarized some.  Of the ones he wrote about, I've selected the following as especially significant and/or provocative.

"Estimates vary, but multiple research teams believe that the typical COVID-19 patient does not infect a single other person."  Most infections come from "super-spreaders," who infect a number of people. "[A]bout 10 percent of coronavirus patients are responsible for 80 percent of all new infections."

These superspreaders don't appear to have super powers in spreading the disease, except maybe cluelessness.  They infect a lot of people by breathing on them a lot, at home or especially in confined spaces and large groups.  Levitz's example is the guy who infected people at choir practice.

This comports with other trending conclusions: that Covid spreads more easily indoors than outdoors, and much more easily from prolonged contact with an infected person than from surfaces.  And if this is so, it might be a good idea to start reporting on the proportion of cases that emerge from nursing homes, meatpacking plants etc.  It also suggests that it may be a long time before people can safely gather as audiences or participants in indoor large-group activities.  However, the prospects for workplaces seem more complicated--depending, for example, on air-conditioning systems that can spread the virus.

We may also learn how valid this new conventional wisdom is in a couple of weeks, when the crowds at beaches and other outdoor venues over Memorial Day have either spread a lot of infection or haven't.  Already it is known that at least one participant in the Missouri lakeside crowd on Memorial Day has tested positive.The same with "socially distant" indoor gathering, as venues "reopen."  Again, already there is a case in Georgia in which employees in a hair salon have tested positive, and contact tracing is being done on all known customers.

The Levitz summary also alerts to the possibility currently being explored that some immunity to covid 19 is conferred by antibodies from other coronaviruses, including colds.  Also confirmation that covid19 virus carriers cease to be infectious after two weeks.

But perhaps the most hopeful of the studies he cites suggests that there are biomarkers that can be found in a simple blood test that indicate whether a covid19 patient is facing a mortal threat or not, some 10 days before this becomes apparent.

This has been one of the scariest and most unusual elements of covid: patients who seem to be recovering or seem to have a light case who suddenly plunge into life-threatening conditions.  The blood test which claims 90% accuracy, would tell doctors which patients need to be hospitalized early, and gives them a head start on treatment.  And treatment is likely to be crucial for a long time to come.

An article in Scientific American which Josh Marshall summarizes, is yet another in a growing body of opinion that wearing masks protect the wearer as well as others.  The study says the distinction that had previously been made, between "droplets" and smaller "aerosol" particles is obsolete and specious.  The virus is airborne, the study claims.  "If you’re close enough that you can smell the tobacco smoke from someone smoking a cigarette you’re probably close enough to be inhaling aerosolized COVID virus."

But masks offer some protection. The study suggests that this is partly why densely populated Japan and South Korea don't have a high proportion of infected people--because these are societies used to wearing face masks (because of air pollution.)   In any case, it's another argument in favor of masks.

The for or against debate on masks seemed to be resolving very definitely on the "for" side.  Several prominent Republicans as well as governors of both parties spoke in favor of masks, and yet another poll shows high mask use: up to 90% among Democrats.  Trump and his AlwaysTrumpers anti-maskers remain the small minority.  But they are becoming more than audacious.  Senator Lindsay Graham, desperate in his bid for re-election (the last poll showed him tied) held a big fundraiser where there were few masks and no social distancing, and ostentatious use of the same microphone.

The Old American Virus: Racism

The weekend begins with continuing and new protests in a growing number of cities, with reported violence. And so again we return focus to the formative American virus of racism is a quiet epidemic, not the least because it remains structural, built into institutions as well as learned behaviors.

The protests began in the Twin Cities because of a white police officer caught on video applying deadly force to unarmed black man, stopped because a nearby storekeeper suspected someone of passing a phony $20 bill.  On Friday this officer was arrested and charged with murder, while investigation into the conduct of other officers continues.

Protests over that incident spread to other cities as the weekend approached.  Meanwhile, during protests in Kentucky over the fatal shooting of a black woman by white police officers, seven people were shot by unknown assailants. These followed protests over the February murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man pursued and shot by two white men while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia.

Also sparking outrage this week was an incident in Central Park, also caught on video, in which a white woman named Amy Cooper threatened to call police when a black man, a bird watcher whose last name happened also to be Cooper, asked her to leash her dog as she was legally obligated to do.  She said she would call the police and tell them he threatened her life. And then she did so, obviously faking her distress, and making sure to mention that her alleged assailant was African American.

The Amy Cooper incident conjured up historical nightmares, as several commentators (including Charles Blow and Aya Gruber) reminded readers of what black men can never forget, that purported violence or sexual advances against white women were frequent excuses for lynching black men, as well as other more recent violence and ongoing prejudice.

But such overt violence is not the only kind that can deform a life. Writing in the context both of this Central Park incident and the covid crisis, journalist Ernest Owens notes in the New York Times that during a recent Zoom session, his therapist observed that he was "glowing."  In quarantine, in the middle of a Pandemic, how could that be?  He concluded: "I'm doing better these days because staying home alone and practicing social distancing has meant I'm avoiding many of the racist encounters that used to plague my daily life."

"I've spent less time simmering with humiliation and rage over offhand ignorant comments, wondering whether my race is the reason for poor treatment, being preoccupied with how to present myself to avoid or minimize discrimination."

He notes these incidents may not be major but they occur often and accumulate.   Now he catches a glimpse of what it's like to be without them.  "Quarantine has meant I don't have to have interactions with people like Ms. Cooper. It has meant I don't even have to worry about having them.  And that's been life-changing."

"It is natural to wish for life to 'just get back to normal,' as a pandemic and an economic crisis upend everything around us," President Obama said through his Twitter feed.  "But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal'--whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park."

 White people like me don't think about this much because we don't have to.  It is not, in its particularity, our experience.  But black men in particular do think about it, because they have to.  And that's why we as a society must think about it.

The VP Zeitgeist

This past week Joe Biden suggested he'd name his VP choice by August 1.  Apart from the ongoing vetting, a lot can happen between now and then to affect his choice, just as a few things happened this past week to elevate Senator Elizabeth Warren and perhaps Senator Kamala Harris, while Senator Amy Klobuchar's chances seem to have taken a major plunge.

The anger among African Americans being caused by and focused by the police killing of a black man in Minneapolis is apt to poison Klobuchar's chances, because as county prosecutor she reportedly passed on filing charges in cases of alleged police violence against African Americans (though a report that one of those instances involved the same police officer who killed George Floyd is false.)  Though she was following the prevailing standard of presenting evidence to grand juries rather than issuing indictments (a practice she says she now regrets), the symbolism may now be too much.

As we reached the weekend there was some talk and media opinion that the emotions aroused in the black community by these latest instances of police violence will put pressure on Biden to select a black woman, with Senator Harris of California as the more likely choice.  But then she also has a law enforcement record, some of it controversial in the black community.

But before that, another poll and the very public advice from a major Dem political operative has further boosted Senator Warren of Massachusetts.  Both the poll and the pol claim that she adds votes to the ticket, with strong support among African Americans, Latinos and voters under 45.  Add this to previous polls showing she is the preferred vp candidate in several Midwestern swing states.

Then there's this article that notes the praise she's getting from President Obama as well as her regular communications with Biden, both impressed with her ideas on the covid crisis and economic recovery, which will be crucial tasks for the new administration, and clearly a strong case is being made.

This article also speaks to what I said months ago was a major objection--the loss of her Senate seat to a likely Republican appointee, which could doom the new administration's agenda.  It turns out that Dems have veto-proof majorities in both Massachusetts houses, and so can easily pass a law--that other states have, and MA used to--that a new appointee to the Senate must be from the same party as the departing Senator, before a special election hands the matter to the voters.  It's still a risk but not nearly as much of one.    

Meanwhile a long-shot choice, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada removed her name from consideration, to focus on her state's economy.  I suspect others will be doing this in the future, especially governors.  At this point it seems to be pretty much between Senators Warren and Harris,  pending results of the vetting, and of course, how things look closer to August.  It may be that by then Biden will be looking at a consensus choice.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

6,000

A non-horrific statistic (at least I think it is): I happened to notice that my Memorial Day/Poetry Monday post was #5,999 in this blog's history. So this is my 6,000th post on Dreaming Up Daily.

I accept that the post counter is accurate.  But I'm not sure what the daily page view count actually means, what with bots, spammers and photo links, but page views passed 500,000 total awhile ago.  A good many Twitter and Facebook and other social media accounts exceed that number in a week, some in a day or an hour.  But for a writer, it's a big number, especially if it represented actual readers.  Even cutting it in half, which is generous but more realistic, is pretty good.

Blogs are obsolete, not quite yet in the same retro cool category as other things I've held onto, like vinyl records, flip phones and even video cassettes.  Not yet Old School either. But Twitter is too short, Facebook too ugly and creepy, and only blogs give me the space and the flexibility to create a page, something like a magazine.  I like that. So I keep playing here, regardless of who does or doesn't shows up to watch.

The superseded blogs as well the always unfashionable ways I use this one have contributed to the decline of daily hits over the years, especially for the newest post.  I am heartened however that older posts still get hits, which I suspect means readers who were actively looking for something found an example of it here.  I still have other blogs where I post seldom if ever (I've been blogging since something like 2002, though this blog is not that old, sometimes maintaining five or so at a time) and they continue to pile up hits, some in the thousands.  There's something substantive--an issue, a play, a writer, a Star Trek episode, that somebody wants to know more about.  Maybe an old movie or a book they just heard of, or just remembered.  Or they're turning 60 or 70, and found one of my posts on that.  This is what I've called the Internet of Remembering, and I'm pleased to be part of that.

There's an element of service in this, and I do think about that.  I think about adding to knowledge, making my very particular contribution.  I take it seriously.

But my dirty little secret is that I have always been less interested in sounding off, attracting clicks or going viral than I have been in writing.  Sure, there's an element of showing off in all this.  And I like to do what I used to do professionally for awhile, which is make a kind of page out of words and images.

When you're showing off it helps to have an audience, and there is something essential about the pairing of writer and reader. But that's becoming secondary (as the length of these posts may suggest.)  Especially at this point in my life, it's mostly about the doing.

Even famous writers will say this.  T.S. Eliot did, at the end of Four Quartets.  Last night I read an interview with Malcolm Cowley in his old age, a literary critic and biographer who had a lot of influence in American literature from the 1930s through the 1950s especially. (And he's also a western Pennsylvania boy.)  "Writing becomes its own reward," Cowley said.  "What do you need from others--except a little money--if you have satisfied the stern critic in yourself?"

These days not even a little money enters into it, and the inner critic is maybe less stern in some ways.  I can't say I'm exactly saintly about it--I get discouraged at the silence at the other end.  So I am grateful for my regular readers.  I suspect I know most of them by their first names.  I probably know their birthdays, too.

But in the end it's a kind of serious play, the work of a lifetime and the work of a life.  So when I get over myself and get into myself, when the energy returns, I can inhabit my zone of illusion, inside my carapace of play. And I make more sentences, and assemble another post.  Some don't look so good the next day.  But I'm happy with a lot of them.  I may have a huge blind spot here, but I think many are as good as anything else one can find on the Internet on a given day.

Still, I doubt there's another 6,000 posts coming.  Though I suppose you never know.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Poetry Monday: In Memoriam

In memory of the unacknowledged (though no longer unnamed) and in a public way, unmourned dead, the 100,000 and more individual Americans, the half million or more around the world who died from the Covid virus this late winter and spring: three stanzas of Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage."    

There have been tears and breaking hearts for thee,
And mine were nothing, had I such to give;
But when I stood beneath the fresh green tree,
Which living waves where thou didst cease to live,
And saw around me the wide field revive
With fruits and fertile promise, and the Spring
Come forth her work of gladness to contrive,
With all her reckless birds upon the wing,
I turned from all she brought to those she could not bring.



I turned to thee, to thousands, of whom each
And one as all a ghastly gap did make
In his own kind and kindred, whom to teach
Forgetfulness were mercy for their sake;
The Archangel's trump, not Glory's, must awake
Those whom they thirst for; though the sound of Fame
May for a moment soothe, it cannot slake
The fever of vain longing, and the name
So honoured but assumes a stronger, bitterer claim.



They mourn, but smile at length--and, smiling, mourn:
The tree will wither long before it fall;
The hull drives on, though mast and sail be torn;
The roof-tree sinks, but moulders on the hall
In massy hoariness; the ruined wall
Stands when its wind-worn battlements are gone;
The bars survive the captive they enthral;
The day drags through though storms keep out the sun;
And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on:

Sections xxx, xxxi and xxxii, Canto 3 of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" by George Gordon, Lord Byron. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Weekend Update: If We're Lucky, Very Lucky...

If we're lucky, very lucky...we won't see a dramatic surge in covid cases and deaths, even by summer.  But most Americans don't seem to be counting on that lucky break.

The news continues to highlight covid crisis sequestration fatigue (expressed more energetically as rage)--much of it political: Republican legislators undermining their governors, far right fanatic white separatist/white fundamentalist/anti-vaxers leading demonstrations and armed defiance, etc.

But the polls tell a different story.  This past week the AP poll found that 83% of Americans were concerned that lifting restrictions will lead to a rise in infections, including 56% who were very concerned.  This 75-80% figure has been a consistent percentage in previous polls that supported restrictions.  It's not the same thing but it's close.  An NPR/PBS/ Marist poll found something similar: 77% were concerned that a second wave of infections is coming.

The anti-maskers get the photo ops but a HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that 62% approve of wearing masks as a public health measure, more than a matter of personal choice.  Only 29% disagree.  About two-thirds of respondents said they always or mostly wear a face covering in public and near people.  Only 23% say they don't, which of course is enough to keep the virus going around but at least counters the impression that Americans are in full revolt.  An AP poll confirms these numbers (73% are mask wearers) and 82% believe masks should be mandatory around people outside the home before restrictions are lifted.

As for the popularity of anti-restrictions protests, some of the biggest mobs have been in Michigan, and a Detroit Free Press poll found that 69% of Michigan residents don't approve, including a majority of Republicans.

The Marist poll also found that 2/3 of Americans surveyed don't expect things to really return to normal for at least 6 months.  A Q poll found that 56% believed that the crisis would not be over for more than a year, while 40% thought weeks or months.  This flipped the numbers in the same poll taken just last month, in April, when 73% thought it would be over in weeks or months, and only 23% that it would take a year or more.

An ABC/Ipso poll shows only 39% approve of the administration's handling of the covid crisis, including 35% of Independents, who tend to lean R.

Towards the end of the week there'd been no big uptick in infections in the US, while all 50 states have begun ending some restrictions. But there are big cautionary notes. Worldwide infections started trending upwards again, and at least one state that had loosened restrictions--Alabama--was experiencing a surge that overwhelmed its hospitals.  A medical model referenced in a front page Washington Post story suggests that uncontrolled spread of the virus--that is, an epidemic--is currently still happening in 24 states, nearly half.  This Memorial Day weekend is going to be a test, these researchers say, of how big and how soon an increase of infections will be.

Meanwhile the number of new applications for unemployment insurance continued to rise.  But that was also true in Georgia, which has been largely "reopened" for a month.  Some 40% of its workers have applied for unemployment.  These are early indications that the economy is not going to rebound on its own, as long as covid threatens.

Locally, the uptick in positives continued this week, though community spread hasn't accelerated.  County public health has added an age breakdown to their daily report, and so far more than half the infections have been in people fifty or under.  People in their 20s are testing positive at about the same rate as people in their 60s, emphasizing that the virus may be a "boomer remover," but younger people are getting sick and potentially spreading infection.  Also, the positive rate for women has been higher than for men for months now.

If we're lucky, very lucky...we won't see armed confrontations involving AlwaysTrumpers between now and January 21, 2021.


Things are looking bleak for AlwaysTrumpers.  Though a few of them are employed regularly in professionally demonstrating across state lines (and taking their infections with them), most others are facing very bad economic times, and the prospect of electoral defeat.

I've resisted polls so far because of the Hillary Clinton/ Counting Your Chickens Effect of 2016.  But Biden's consistent lead seems to be growing stronger.  The most interesting new poll is from Fox, which gives Biden an 8 point lead, but significantly finds that Biden has a 12 point advantage in "extremely motivated" voters, 53% to 40%, a reversal of previous findings.

I don't know how scientific the Morning Consult poll of social media users could be, but the findings this week were suggestive.  Some 73% of them said that Trump should be banned permanently or at least temporarily from social media for spreading false information.  Only 13% were against a ban, even fewer than the 14% who had no opinion.

Meanwhile, an economic model that had correctly predicted the popular vote winner of every presidential election except two since 1948, finds that based on economic conditions, Biden will win in a landslide, with Trump getting only 35% of the popular vote--so little that any swing state strategy would be obliterated.

Of course, while economic conditions usually predict the outcome, they don't always.  And it's clear that Republicans, while paying their usual fealty to their economic cliches that either never work (trickle down from rich tax breaks) or which they ignore in practice (balance budgets), are aiming at inflaming so-called cultural issues and ginning up phony scandals and conspiracies.

The more desperate they get, the more they will incite and inflame their gun-toting "base."  Which is why we're going to be very lucky not to see those guns come out in force and even be used, perhaps in some isolated anti-mask uprising that could spread.  Or, if you want to go big but not unimaginable, in an armed confrontation with US troops evicting the current residents of the White House, should they refuse to leave when voted out of office and the new President is sworn in.  If we last that long.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Your Daily Lear


--words and image by Edward Lear

(Incidentally...recently discovered another Edward Lear enthusiast: FDR)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Poetry Monday: News Every Day


News Every Day

Birds don't say it just once.  If they like it
they say it again.  And again, every morning.
I heard a bird congratulating itself
all day for being a jay.
Nobody cared.  But it was glad
all over again, and said so, again.

Many people are fighting each other, in the world.
You could learn that and say," Many people
are fighting each other, in the world."
It would be true, but saying it wouldn't
make any difference.  But you'd say it.
Birds are like that.  People are like that.

William Stafford

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Weekend Update: Premature Emancipation?

It takes as little as a dog walk around the neighborhood to feel it: a lot of people are done with this.  The Covid Crisis is over because they want it to be.  But public health experts definitely do not agree.

Media reports dramatize the growing partisan divide over covid restrictions, with a belligerent and sometimes armed but small minority against a cautious majority.  Somewhat apart from this however is the mood that seems to be growing that staying at home is over, and with that, a decrease in obeying state and local laws mandating masks in indoor public places, and even a slippage in physical distancing.  That last one is the key to why this feels different. The consensus is eroding fast, and with it the respect for others.

Meanwhile the news on the actual state of the covid pandemic in the US is mixed.  Last week a former FDA commissioner testified that there were statistical signs that it was slowing.  But Politico quoted the current CDC director that the US is on track to pass 100,000 deaths by June 1, with mortality indicators trending upwards.

The New York Times reports that as of Friday, new cases were decreasing in 19 states, increasing in 3, with the rest staying pretty much the same.  This is what public health officials hoped would happen after weeks of sequestration, including major limits on travel.  But they now expect increases where sequestration ends, and with travel resuming.  These may not show up for a couple of weeks.

The current paradox and confusion is exemplified even here in Humboldt County, where there has been not one official covid death.  After weeks of almost no one testing positive for infection, there has been a flood of positives--9 in just the last two days.  Many are linked to a senior living facility, both staff and patients.  But not all.

Arcata Market before Covid Crisis
Meanwhile California, still with stringent restrictions, is allowing businesses to reopen at minimal levels, with differences in different parts of the state linked to their capacities to handle an outbreak, if not to a low positive trend.

 The cautious re-opening of the Arcata Farmers Market is an instructive example.  Humboldt mandates face masks and social distancing, and the Market did their own due diligence.  Media reports that most people respected the laws and limitation but some conspicuously and aggressively did not.  Now the Market is trying to figure out if it can overcome this threat to everyone with technical changes.  Elsewhere, when belligerent customers violated norms and even threatened, hit and in a couple of cases, shot and killed employees, those businesses promptly shut down again.

Humboldt County Public Health did something significant last week--they opened covid virus and antibody testing to the public, so the first testing of people without symptoms is happening.  There's not enough data yet to say whether the increase in positives reveals a previously undetected asymptomatic spread, but it seems likely. (The percentage of positives among people tested has gone up.)   Still, there have been only 77 positive tests, and 20 known active cases, with 13 of the 77 total designated as "community spread," that is, not related to travel or contact with a known case.  Almost 4,000 people have been tested.

Arcata has lost or is losing almost half of its population, as HSU students who stuck around now leave. The entire CSU system, of which Humboldt is a part, announced that it will resume with virtual classes only in the fall, although HSU has petitioned for a combination of virtual and actual classes.  So we have no idea how many students will return.

The confusion and defiance of restrictions is due in part to the national leadership vacuum.  As President Obama told graduating college students,“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.” The Washington Post notes the consequences of a hollowed out federal government.  Meanwhile, various localities see conflict between elected officials (usually based on party and 2020 electoral politics) and between elected officials and police officials when they side with the AlwaysTrumpers.

Besides covid crisis fatigue itself, there's possibly another factor. I've been agnostic on the question of hostility towards older people, but I'm beginning to sense there's something there.  I was certainly surprised last week to read the latest report by the science-based David Wallace-Wells asserting that since covid 19 targets the elderly, so should "prevention efforts," without acknowledging once that younger people are carriers, and they too can become sick and die.  While his argument is sound--that universal restrictions was a blunt instrument that could have been avoided with more competent federal leadership--an impact of the piece is to support the sense that the only consequences of disregarding restrictions is death to expendable elders.

But probably by June 1, we'll see what the actual consequences are.

Very locally, we remain well and sequestered, with everything being delivered.  The NYT Spelling Bee continues to be a mainstay of my day. To my run of hitting genius level and getting the Pangram (which must be close to 200 straight days by now) I've added a new challenge for myself--to see how early in the game I can get the Pangram--the word that uses all seven letters.  This past week or so I got it on the first word in five out of six games, and before that, twice on the second word.  Yesterday's was my personal best--I got pangrams on my first three words.  Love those games with "ly" and "e."  Rare as either of them are.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

History of My Reading: The Students Are Revolting

On Thursday evening, April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon spoke from the White House in an address carried live by all three major television networks.  With the aid of a map, he announced attacks by American forces on "sanctuaries" and command centers for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers in the neutral nation of Cambodia.

The U.S. was withdrawing troops and negotiating, Nixon said, but the North Vietnamese were increasing their attacks. Action was necessary to protect American troops, and to avoid American "humiliation" and "defeat." "If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world."

Reading this speech fifty years later, it might seem eminently reasonable--except that by that time, few believed anything that the administration said about Vietnam, and with ample justification.  Most of the assertions in the speech have proven to be lies. That phrase--pitiful, helpless giant--would become an epitaph of the era.

Instead, what jumped out of the TV screen was another escalation, this time an invasion of another country without either its formal request or a declaration of war.  It was also a time of hyperbole, but it isn't much of an overstatement that, almost at the moment the speech ended, America exploded.  In particular, its college and university campuses.  Hundreds of them erupted in protest and in varying degrees of violence.

 At Kent State in Ohio, that violence on campus brought the war home when National Guard troops fired on unarmed students and killed four. This instantly led to even greater and more widespread campus consternation.  Within days, the normal functioning of higher education had pretty much stopped.

Eventually this disruption hit the isolated campus of Knox College in Illinois, with a certain surprise--when Time Magazine covered it, the article concluded that if it could happen in Galesburg, it could happen anywhere.  And much to my own surprise, I found myself at the center of it, fifty years ago this week.


This historical moment was the product of many currents, pulled into the same whirlpool by the issue and situation of the Vietnam War in 1970. These currents can be represented by the phenomenon and the individuals involved in what was first called the Chicago 8.  The Nixon Justice Department brought charges against eight participants in demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 (which I've written about here.)  Ironically, they used a provision of the Civil Rights Act meant to prosecute rioters in federal court when states refused to bring charges.

These eight individuals were also charged with conspiracy, despite the fact that several didn't know each other.  They instead represented a continuum of protest, both in Chicago and (just as pointedly) in the years of the 1960s.

Tom Hayden was the most prominent of those who started in the student movement.  While in college he was a cofounder of Students for a Democratic Society and the principal author of the Port Huron Statement in 1962, that applied the ideals of "participatory democracy" to all aspects of American society.

More broadly, the student movement symbolized political activism applied to internal college and university issues as well as issues that went beyond the campus.  Hayden began in the Civil Rights movement in the early 60s, and became an antiwar activist during Vietnam.  He always brought American-born ideals to these issues, as when he adopted the words of Sitting Bull for the title of his 1972 book on Vietnam, The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them.


Student activism in this era began at least in the late 1950s, with the protests in San Francisco against the House UnAmerican Activities Committee and the first Berkeley protests, which culminated in the Free Speech Movement in 1964-65. I was in high school when I read about some of these early protests in a paperback I found on a Greensburg drugstore rack called Student by David Horowitz.  This primed my own activism at Knox College, though ironically the author Horowitz later repudiated the book and became a right wing extremist.

Then 1968 was a year of global student protests, notably in Paris (where student Daniel Cohn-Bendit became prominent) as well as the United States.  The US protest that got the most attention was at Columbia University, where students occupied administrative offices and other buildings, and were forcibly removed by New York police.

There were a bewildering array of theories, beliefs and political positions represented in student activism, with adherents quoting everyone from Lenin and Mao to the more fashionable intellectuals such as Marcuse.  The doctrinaire were not the majority however.  Students with a wide range of orientations and backgrounds came together on broader issues such as the war or issues specific to their college or university--or, as would be happening more intensely, in self-defense.

Several of the Chicago 8 were organizers with roots in earlier traditions, such as unionism.  David Dellinger was the oldest defendant at 54, a pacifist and Civil Rights activist.  But just as SDS had broken into factions, at least one of them advocating violent resistance, there were also stark divisions in the Civil Rights movement, especially since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Defendant Bobby Seale was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, an organization also proposed with a document setting forth its ideals (and demands) in the Ten Point Platform.  Though the document and many Black Panther Party activities stressed community service and self-determination, the imagery and rhetoric were often militant and violent, emphasizing armed resistance.

The Chicago 7
And then there were the Yippies.  The 60s political and student movements joined with the broader cultural revolution, beginning with shared music, dope and sexual liberation.  Chicago defendants Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin founded the Yippies, the political hippies.  They were flamboyant, deliberately and strategically outrageous.  At the time I didn't know much about the Dadaist art movement in Europe between the world wars but when I read about it, the lineage was clear: the Yippies were Dada with a purpose.  

So there was conflict and commonality, but it was the commonality that was most apparent to the older generations of conventional America, the Silent Majority (as Nixon called them).  The Generation Gap was its strongest in these years, and it became clear (as in the Anthony Lukas reporting) that jurors were judging these defendants as much on their appearance and demeanor as their alleged actions.  The common culture (or counterculture) was real enough, but the differences, especially in tactics, were also real, though that wasn't apparent to the most threatened outside this culture.

It is worth mentioning at this point the violence that members of all these groups were suffering, apart from those in Vietnam.  Violence against activists opposing racism was no longer restricted to the South. Apart from the ordinary violence that African American men could expect, black activists were particular targets, and the Black Panthers most of all.

This was brought home to Knox College students when Fred Hampton, Illinois chairman of the Black Panthers, was ruthlessly gunned down in his bed and killed by Chicago police and FBI in December 1969.  Hampton was engaged in organizing the multicultural Rainbow Coalition that brought together street gangs to work for social change instead of killing each other.  Hampton had evidently visited Knox that year.  When I read of his murder in an underground newspaper, his photo showed him wearing a Knox sweatshirt.

Another aspect was highlighted by Chicago author Richard Stern, who visited Hampton's apartment after his murder (and that of another man in the apartment), and noted the books that were there. In a brief essay that later became the title piece of his 1973 collection, he wrote:"...it meant that the blood which lumped the mattress and stained the floorboards was in part the blood of the books as well as their readers.  If it didn't make that fierce nest a shrine, it lifted its meanness and anonymity."

But previously immune white youth were also victims of violence, and not all because of politics.  In a Ramparts collection on the cultural revolution, several articles chronicled routine violence against "hippies" and members of communes--assaults, arson, rapes-- unrestricted by age or gender.

Students experienced beatings and routine tear-gas during political protests, and the campus was no longer a sanctuary.  In response to this violence and to the endless war, some protesters engaged in violence against property.  Some was planned, some spontaneous, some extraneous, and some undoubtedly fomented by government agents, agent provocateurs.

Violence against student activists was encouraged by the White House, in v.p. Agnew's rhetoric and Nixon's praise of the "hardhats" who attacked protesters.  Even in his Cambodia speech, Nixon asserted: "We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed."  There would be more of this after the speech, when the protests started.

The Chicago convention itself was a prime example of official violence, though the trial of demonstrators attempted to distract from this.  The government's own Walker Commission concluded that it was the Chicago police that had rioted.

This long and highly theatrical Chicago trial was featured on the evening news all through the 1969-70 academic year.  That theatre was at times inspired and hilarious (Hoffman and Rubin were said to have appeared in court one day wearing judicial robes.  When ordered to take them off, they did so, only to reveal Chicago police uniforms underneath.)

But the theatre of this trial was more consistently horrifying and enraging.  Right from the start, the judge refused Bobby Seale's request for his own lawyer, or to represent himself.  When he continued to protest, the judge had him bound and gagged in chair in the courtroom.  That image--seen only in the sketches permitted during court proceedings--became indelible.  Bobby Seale was soon separated from this trial, and so the defendants became known through the history since as the Chicago 7.

The verdicts came down in February 1970.  The trial was so manifestly unjust that the anger and alienation it engendered were still in the air in May. (Though some defendants were found guilty on riot charges and on contempt of court, eventually all the charges were thrown out because of the evident bias of Judge Julius Hoffman.)

When Nixon made his Cambodia speech at the end of April, I was in Buffalo, New York.  I was visiting a friend from Knox, Steve Meyers, who was a graduate students in the State University of New York at Buffalo English department.  I was applying for admission in the writing program.

At that moment the University was already embroiled in very serious internal conflict.  Charges of specific instances of institutional racism and other issues, some of them related to the war, had led to demonstrations in early February, which led to arrests, which led to more demonstrations, which led to the University president calling for Buffalo police on campus, which led to even larger demonstrations, including a sit-in by 45 faculty members, who were arrested.

Soon the streets near campus became battlegrounds between police and presumably students, with barricades, tear gas and rock and (it being Buffalo in winter) ice-throwing.  Steve and I listened to the campus radio station reports each evening, and read the student newspaper, the Spectrum.

We also attended a large meeting of students and faculty, perhaps just the English department, perhaps not.  But one topic discussed was calling for the resignation of the university president. (Already several of his top administrators had decided to move on, and at least one high profile faculty member--Edgar Z. Friedenberg, author of The Vanishing Adolescent that had so impressed me in high school--resigned from the faculty.)  I remember two things from this meeting: Leslie Fiedler's impassioned speech saying how grave it was to call for a president's resignation, and why he was doing so; and being warned by someone while we were waiting for the meeting to begin not to even chat about anything controversial because there were likely to be FBI or other government agents in the crowd.  This proved to be generally accurate.

After spring break in mid March, the intensity was dying down, only to flare up suddenly in response to Nixon announcing the Cambodian invasion. Fighting in the streets between crowds and police resumed at a higher pitch over that weekend.

There were significant protests the next day--on Friday May 1--at Princeton, University of Maryland and other campuses and in cities like Seattle, as well as smaller protests at places like Kent State in Ohio.

Also on Friday, President Nixon spoke to Pentagon employees in a statement that made the front pages by Saturday, saying "You see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses...I mean, storming around about this issue, I mean you name it get rid of the war, there'll be another one."

On Sunday, a meeting of representatives of 11 universities met at Columbia U. and issued a call for a nationwide student strike the next week, declaring that “classroom education becomes a hollow, meaningless exercise,” in the face of this escalation of war. Over the weekend, a protest march through Kent resulted in some broken windows, while on campus a small group set fire to the old wood frame house devoted to ROTC. It burned to the ground. The Governor of Ohio, whose own rhetoric had become even more heated than Nixon's, sent the National Guard to occupy the Kent State campus. National Guard were also called to the campuses of Ohio State, the University of Maryland and probably elsewhere.

The National Guard presence at Kent State stirred the campus.  On Sunday, a 19 year old student named Allison Krause placed a flower in the gun barrel of a National Guard soldier, who may well have been 19 as well.

There was no strike at Kent State on Monday, so at noon, some students were going to classes, others to lunch.  A crowd had gathered at the Commons--some to protest the Guard's presence, some for a previously scheduled protest that had been called off.  The Guard ordered them to disperse but many did not. According to witnesses, the two sides were so far apart that the rocks students threw landed in the same open area as the tear gas the Guard lobbed.

The Guard marched up the hill, backing down the students in front of them.  The students behind them were still far away.  But a number of the Guard turned and fired into the crowd.  Whether they were ordered to do so is still at issue, but they may well have been.  They killed four students, including Allison Krause.  They inflicted wounds on 11, with one student paralyzed for life.

On Tuesday, an Extra edition of the Spectrum headlined the call for a national strike, with an early report on the Kent State killings.  By Wednesday it was a front page story, with that iconic photo, under the banner headline: "They shoot students, don't they?"

Maybe it was some homing instinct at a time of crisis, but Steve and I got into his MG and headed for Galesburg.

Me and Steve Meyers, a snap from classmate
Howard Partner, probably 1967 or 8 at Knox 
We had an uneasy moment being stared at during a stop on the Ohio turnpike.  A newspaper I picked up along the way carried a story quoting Nixon as saying that he hoped the fatal shootings at Kent State would convince universities to stand against "the resort to violence."  Vice President Spiro T. Agnew said that they proved he was right to attack violent demonstrators.

Somewhere I also saw a story quoting Kent townspeople who blamed the students for the shootings, with one woman complaining that the newspapers were printing the dead students' high school photos but they didn't look like that when they were shot.

Newspapers also reported that on Friday May 8, 200 construction workers attacked protesters in lower Manhattan, in what became known as the Hard Hat Riot.  It lasted two hours, spilled into City Hall and left 70 injured.

John Podesta
We must have arrived at Knox College before the huge protest demonstration in Washington on Saturday, May 9.  I'm pretty sure I was already party to impassioned discussions students were having.  I know we were there when the news began to circulate that a Knox student demonstrator had been arrested in Washington--John Podesta.  Though this was two years after my senior year spring, I knew some students who'd been first and second years then, and John was one.  We took up a collection for his bail, with a "Free Podesta" banner, but by then he was already on his way back to campus.

John Podesta went on to other things, such as White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton, White House advisor to President Obama and campaign chair for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  That--and his continued alumni support for Knox--probably contribute to his place in the College's official history of the Knox events of May 1970.  At the time, the takeover of a dean's office was hardly something that earned a lot of praise from the college administration. In fact, it was scheduled to earn me jail time.  But in retrospect apparently it has become an heroic deed, and Podesta is credited as its leader.  We actually joked about this over dinner at his house in Washington, when he was between Presidents.  John certainly was intimately involved in the events I am about to recall.  But I'll leave descriptions of his role to his own memoirs.

Instead I will patch together my recollections with a few artifacts that have survived from that time, along with fragmentary notes I made at various times in the following few years.

Some 400 campuses went on strike that week, the first national student strike in US history.  Knox College was not one of them.  Some of its students were upset by this.  I found there the same emotions as on other campuses--anger and sadness, frustration and disbelief, feelings of being betrayed and misunderstood, scapegoated and even hated.

Some months later I summarized what I observed.  The activist students "were small in number, somewhat paranoid about their alienation from the majority of [Knox] students, factionalized and not all overly fond of each other, yet energized by the solidarity they saw [elsewhere] and the frustration they felt that their own campus was so unresponsive."

I described the situation as "volatile," and I recall some specifics of that.  At one end of the spectrum were those students who wanted to work within established channels and the usual means of petitions, letters and demonstrations.  At the other there was a small number of students angry enough to advocate violence, specifically setting fires and exploding bombs.  And many, probably most, somewhere between them.

Bombing buildings was certainly happening on and around some campuses, and there were individuals and organizations that advocated violence.  These particular students at Knox did not strike me as radical ideologues.  Mostly they were angry young males.  Some of them actually did make a bomb which they attempted to detonate. It may have simply been a stink bomb, I'm not sure, because it didn't work.  But it was enough to be alarming.  I was frankly less worried that they would blow something up than I was that they would blow themselves up. They seemed more impulsively angry than doctrinaire, or competent at bomb-making.

I recall several meetings held in a large, mostly empty room at the off-campus apartment shared by Carol Hartman and Mary Maddox, where I was staying.  Eventually these meetings coalesced around finding a plan of action that everyone could support.  I saw that it had to be peaceful but forceful, or at least dramatic.

Taking over administrative offices had become a tactic since the Columbia University demonstrations a year before.  I don't remember who proposed this, but I do recall my contribution at this point, which was to suggest a Yippie-like action.
 While I was at Knox that spring I was reading Jerry Rubin's book, Do It!  I'd previously read Abbie Hoffman's books, Revolution for the Hell of It and Woodstock Nation.

 I'd been at the big Pentagon demonstration in 1968 that had been in part a Yippie action, described in Rubin's book.  I didn't subscribe to all their ideas but I did feel a certain vibe in common.  Writer Jack Newfield called Hoffman "a pure Marxist-Lennonist: Harpo Marx and John Lennon."  That worked for me.

Hoffman and Rubin's humor was natural to them but also tactical and strategic.  They used humor and outrageousness as political jujitsu, to throw their establishment opponents off balance.  The people who held the power--in government, the military, business and in colleges--couldn't be defeated or even meaningfully confronted on their own terms: in terms of power.  But in other ways they could be.

Hoffman and Rubin used humor in part the way Madison Avenue did, to attract attention and to make their point through imagery and irony. They used other kinds of theatrics for the same reason, a kind of forerunner of live "memes."  But they also used humor as a weapon, as psychological leverage.  With humor they could expose hypocrisy, pretension and the truth behind these facades.  It opened the opponent to ridicule they brought on themselves. There was also something disarming and winning about humor, especially irony. It made violence against those who employed it perhaps less likely, and certainly less justifiable.

But in this context, humor was also revelatory.  By this time, Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five had made him a ubiquitous name on campuses in particular.  That novel joined Heller's Catch-22 as cultural--countercultural-- touchstones. Both novels employed what was sometimes described as black humor, but which novelist Vance Bourjaily insisted was more accurately called gallows humor.  In this context it conveyed Mark Twain's view (Twain being one of  Vonnegut's models in particular), that "the source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow.”  It was a way to work with the pain to get at some sort of meaning.

The Yippie approach also had the advantage of appealing to almost everyone in that room as a common action, though I'm sure many had their different reservations.  However, many were Yippies at heart anyway. So we proceeded along that line. Was it the best approach to take?  Maybe not.  With a more straightforward approach, there may have been more support among students, faculty and even administrators than anyone in that room believed there would be.  But I don't regret the choice.  Because in the end there were no bombs.  There was no violence.

This being Knox, everyone at the preliminary meetings knew each other.  Black students had organized several years before and a representative attended at least one of the meetings, but the black students decided not to officially participate in a common action, and keep control of their own message.

At the final meeting the target and the time were decided, and the small group of students who would enter first.  I believe there was even lighthearted discussion of style--what kind of outrageous costumes we would wear.  But apart from a couple of opening statements, nothing much was planned.  Most of these actions elsewhere were largely improvised.  But this one was continually improvised by design.  It was part of the point.

Just about all I knew of what to expect came from reports from other campuses, and books such as The Strawberry Statement by James Simon Kunen, about the Columbia takeovers.  Again, I saw that Kunen took a light, personal approach.  The cover of his book featured an effusive endorsement from Kurt Vonnegut. So that book as well as the Yippie books were in the back of my mind.

At around 4 on Friday afternoon, May 15, a handful of students entered Dean Sanville's office and handed him the Eviction Notice, which began: "In the name of Abraham Lincoln, Bobby Seale, Bobby Dylan and the scholars of Woodstock Nation at Knox College, the current administration is hereby evicted from Old Main."

It ended by declaring solidarity with the national and international fight to "free Asia from imperialist oppression, to free the nation from racism and repression, to free the planet from self-destruction, to free ourselves."  It was signed: The Students Are Revolting. 

That's the name I came up with: a Yippie pun.  In subsequent documents, it was shortened to the acronym SAR, but it took Time Magazine to point out that the true acronym was TSAR, which was even better because it was funnier and in the same spirit of mirroring expectations and throwing them back.  Happy accidents will happen.

My notes remind me however that the phrase had a Knox precedent. I remembered it from a Mortarboard satirical skit--the last one before they were temporarily banned for being salacious.  "The students are revolting" was a line said, with appropriate emphasis, by the Dean of Students.

The students in that first group reported that the Dean and his secretary seemed unsurprised by the takeover and left without argument. (They got maybe an extra hour start on their weekend.) After the first group took possession, reinforcements of around 30 arrived.  We locked the doors and opened the first floor window, so that people could enter and exit as Lincoln did when he "went through Knox College" and into Old Main.  (Though not, scholars suggest, by that same window.)

In the office we found the previous night's campus "activity report" which stated: "God provided us rain" Everything quiet on the campus.  We also found college president Sharvey Umbeck's memo on how to deal with crisis situations.  Though it included some surprising humility (" Don't focus on finding a scapegoat...We start by searching our own souls before seeking fault in others") the basic message was to emphasize the positive and "develop a program which turns the crisis to the College's advantage."

We issued a press release: From an original strike force of 2,000 who nonviolently took over the administration, the ranks have grown to nearly a million...We are getting all our orders from Ho Chi Minh.  Then everyone was encouraged to issue their own press releases, which they did, on the best available official stationery. Dean of Students Ivan Harlan stuck his head in, saw us using the phones, and left to have the phones cut off.

I later described the occupation as an open-form action without imposed structure, an expression that became a challenge.

"We're not being violent.  We are having a political party," that first release said.  By evening this was literally true.  Somehow a rock band appeared (again, not previously planned), and set up in the Old Main hallway.  Soon there were hundreds of people outside and inside--talking, arguing, and occasionally dancing. They were students, faculty, the occasional administrator, and the college public relations person.

Photo from the college archives, taken in Old Main that night.
That's Robin Metz in the foreground, and that's me in the funny
hat behind him.  This is the only photo of the event I have.
It was a surreal few hours, in a good way at first ( a rock band playing under a portrait of Lincoln.)  But some students got uncomfortable as atmosphere got more boozy, especially as some participants, notably faculty members, seemed to be treating it as just another Friday night party. There was also a classic Yippie moment when a faculty member went ballistic when told the soft drinks were spiked with LSD.  The actual Yippies had used the same rumor at the Chicago convention demonstration.  It wasn't true then, and it certainly wasn't true at Knox, as inspection of the factory sealed bottles might suggest.

Some of the students who originally threatened bombing were particularly upset by the party atmosphere. By that time news had spread of more students being shot by police, this time at the predominantly black college, Jackson State in Mississippi.  Two were killed and 12 wounded.  So the rest of us responded by pulling the plug on the band and asking people who wanted to discuss further action to stay, and others to leave.

When things quieted down there were (my notes indicate) now about 80 committed to the occupation.  This larger group had a serious and heartfelt discussion that went on most of the night, interrupted for a time by drunken comments and personal insults from the other room (aimed at me, for one) by a few members of the faculty and administration.  A meeting of a faculty committee, probably the Student Affairs Committee, was scheduled for 10:30 in the morning.

The discussion ranged from the war in Vietnam and now at home, to earnest talk about community, ideals and possibilities.   This week that forcibly took everyone out of regular time was an opportunity. A consensus quickly arose (again, I'm referring to more or less contemporaneous notes) that the students who were now present wanted a strike, with official mourning for the Kent State and now Jackson State students, and discussions of relevant issues instead of standard classes.  The difference of opinion was whether or not to bring such a proposal to the faculty committee.  Some believed they would consider it, others doubted it.  Almost everyone realized simply making the proposal was a concession, a return to the old power dynamic of asking for something.

Eventually everyone agreed to work out a proposal, and that's what happened the rest of the night.  Unfortunately I don't have a copy of it.  But I believe it proposed several days of a "free university" devoted to relevant issues.  A group of representatives was elected, and they took it to the committee in the morning, while everybody else tried to get some sleep on the floors.

I remember one moment from that strange night.  I was walking through a group of students sitting and lying on the floor, when one young woman looked up at me and smiled.  I hadn't known her before, but she looked at me with such faith and trust. I felt a particular responsibility placed on me by that look, beyond what I'd felt from the start of this, and I knew at that moment that I would do my best to see that no harm would come to her or anyone, as a priority.  We all knew that the police might well become involved at some point, for not even Knox College was immune.

On Saturday morning the faculty committee refused to discuss anything with occupation representatives while we occupied the offices, because (they said) that meant the faculty was under duress.  So the representatives roused the sleeping occupier and we all went to the committee room down the hall.  The faculty did not discuss their proposals but rejected their legitimacy, and harshly criticized the occupiers.

Cooler heads might have expected this, and even seen it as a part of the process that would end up in some sort of compromise.  But (my notes more than indicate) most of the students were shocked by its dismissive intensity, involving what would today be called shaming.  The desires and possibilities they had articulated, sometimes tearfully, in the suspended space of the night, were ignored and disdained.

A theorist might suggest that the Yippie/Dada occupation had monkeyed with the structure and mystique of authority, denying its moral validity, and the faculty now reflexively attempted to restore and enforce that authority and mystique.  Or it simply was an angry reaction with rational justification, which felt like violence to the exhausted and vulnerable.

The faculty meeting did have its Yippie moments.  I noted that John brought a flashlight to the meeting and pretended to flash messages to confederates outside. He and the other representatives requested donations for the Old Main One--a student who'd been arrested for trying to shoplift chains, to chain up the doors.

In any case the faculty response also seemed like part of a bad cop/good cop strategy, because when we got back from the meeting, the Dean of Students entered, made "a few subtle threats" but offered to negotiate.  "I'll be in my office," he said.  "We'll be in ours!" one of the students shouted, to cheers.  The occupying group seemed on the verge of splintering until that moment.

The deans stuck around and talked with whoever came into their offices.  Perhaps some actual negotiation began at this point, but it mostly became chaos.  The deans' huddle was interrupted by a student asking for a match, and then leaving.  Just as one of the more traditionally liberal members of the occupying group was explaining to the deans that one of these days things might get so bad that somebody might throw a bomb, in slid a long sputtering fuse attached to a loaf of bread. Then 30 of the occupiers got down on the Old Man hallway floor and crawled towards one of the offices crying, "Crumbs!  Crumbs from the table! Please!"

The occupation continued throughout the day on Saturday.  There seemed to be only two alternatives: to acknowledge defeat, or await the police.  We talked about it.  We could ask those not willing to be busted to leave, but the group believed it had achieved something by staying together, and they wanted to remain together. But to some, and especially to me, the whole group staying required trusting that the police would not be violent, and in this week that did not seem a safe bet.

And what would be gained? Injury or worse, radicalization of some, a lot of alienation and turmoil with lasting repercussions. This scenario had become predictable. Issues had been raised and a process begun, however disingenuously. It seemed time for a last act of Yippie jujitsu.  The group made the final decision, with what seemed like relief.

In the darkness of very early Sunday morning we packed up and left, announcing that we were enacting the solution to the wearisome question of how do we get out of Vietnam?  Our answer was: declare victory and go home.

Later I learned, probably from Becky Harlan, Dean Ivan Harlan's daughter, that a police raid had been in the works, working with the college.  Students who participated would simply be sent home, but--as an ex-student Outside Agitator-- I would be arrested, as would the other ex-student present.

Shortly after the occupation, the college did call off classes and held an open university for a day or two.  I can't imagine where they got the idea.

The occupation and my participation in it got me some odd responses.  Some  I thought would be more positive, weren't.  But one faculty member I expected to be hostile--in fact the professor who'd flunked me and adamantly refused to let me graduate--complimented me on taking an interest in my old school, with a smile.  To this day I don't know if he was sincere, or more skilled at blank sarcasm than I'd ever seen.

The head of college public relations--who I've decided not to name here-- may have felt personally betrayed because he'd employed me writing for the alumni magazine and tried to get me a summer reporting job while I was a student.  In any case he was bitter, angry and very hostile.  While it was going on, I'd written a verse parody about the occupation called, naturally enough, "The Students Are Revolting."  The main character was Free Podesta, which wasn't meant to be John specifically, but was a pun referring both to the "Free Podesta" signs and to Abbie Hoffman's adopted name of Free, to designate a kind of Every-Protester.  Later someone slipped me this p.r. man's own Shakespearian verse parody, quite skillfully written, with personal digs at a number of students but in which the chief villains are me ("King Owinski") and somebody called "Jan Siesta."

All of this reminds me of something Abbie Hoffman said years later:"We were reckless, we were headstrong, we were impatient, we were excessive. But goddammit we were right."  

During the occupation I snuck out a few times, once to go to the library to check out the story about the occupation in Time Magazine (with its immortal quote, "If it can happen at Knox College, it can happen anywhere.")  Oddly, there were a couple of alums I knew who visited Knox that weekend, for reasons of their own.  One was Neil Gaston, one of the first of my classmates I met my first year. I ran into him in front of Seymour Hall. He was in the Army.  He wanted to talk about books.

The other was Valjean McLenighan, in her Dress for Success period.  We had a brief conversation before I had to go back.  I only found her because Dean Deborah Wing saw me and said she was on campus and looking for me.  In all my years at Knox I had hardly a good word to say for Dean Wing, and yet she was calmly civil with me.  That was the last time I saw or heard from Neil.  And though Valjean and I spoke on the phone, wrote letters and emails over the years, that was also the last time I saw her.


Two other relevant memories:  I did participate in the open university, though my contribution was decidedly undistinguished.  In retrospect it reminds me of the actor's nightmare, in which you find yourself on stage unprepared.  I'd begun something which I'd planned as a multi-media presentation on "the classroom without walls," on old forms restricting new information and the revelations of disruptions, but I didn't have anything coherent in shape in time.  And I was exhausted, so I mumbled and grumbled through the nightmare.  All I managed to prepare, besides pages of preliminary verbiage, were copies of a page from a McLuhan book.  The first sentence makes the point:"The speed of information movement in the global village means that every human action or event involves everybody in the village in the consequences of every event."  That seemed true in May 1970.  It's certainly true in May 2020.

But before I left campus I successfully made my first and only movie--a super 8 one-reeler, about 3 and a half minutes long, edited in the camera.  It was about an Allison Krause figure.  She also captured the imagination of many poets and others, probably for the flower in the gun barrel moment.  I had immediately gravitated towards her also because she was from Pittsburgh, and grew up not far from where I did.  I planned my scenes and shots but while I actually shot the film I had a tune in my head--Paul McCartney's first solo album was just out, and I kept hearing "Maybe I'm Amazed."  The first and I think only time I ran the film, I put the record on, and the film and the song exactly matched, in length and rhythms.  Spooky.

Two postscripts: Sometime in the 1980s I met Jerry Rubin.  He was a millionaire by then, and was beginning to host networking parties. My literary agent at the time was helping him out.  I rode in the back seat of a car with him, and attended one of his parties at his Upper East Side apartment.  It was all carpeted in white.  And I noticed that he served only white wine.  I also noticed that I never saw him smile.

Also in the 1980s, when I was back in western Pennsylvania working on my mall book, I got an unusual phone call.  Ivan Harlan and his new wife, the former Lynn Metz, were nearby and invited me to dinner.  They were visiting St. Vincent College in Latrobe, evidently job-hunting.  At one point Ivan told me that his daughter Becky had explained to him what my role was in organizing the occupation, that it had helped keep things from becoming violent.  And he also told me that he missed those days.  Students now were so boring.